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Terabyte Round II: Seagate Barracuda 7200.11

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Seagate’s Barracuda 7200.11 shows signs of significant changes, and it is claimed to be quieter, less power hungry, and faster than previous versions. And it is. But how much quieter?

February 18, 2008 by Devon
Cooke

Product
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340AS
1TB, 7,200 RPM Desktop Hard Drive
Manufacturer
Market Price
US$265~380

Seagate came late to the terabyte landmark, and their Barracuda 7200.11 has
not been without its flaws. However, it also came with the promise of lower
noise, lower power consumption, and (predictably) better performance. That’s
welcome news here at Silent PC Review — for a long time, Seagate was respected
as the maker of the quietest drive on the market: The Barracuda IV. The seven
revision difference between the Barracuda IV and the 7200.11 should give some
idea of how long it has been since they were in a position to brag about the
quietness of their drives.

As an upgrade from the 7200.10, the differences seem to be mostly numerical:
32 vs. 16 MB of cache, 250 vs. 188 GB platters, 2.9 vs. 3.7 bel seeks. However,
a physical inspection reveals some significant changes to the hardware, suggesting
that the 7200.11 is more than just a capacity upgrade and a cache bump. Unfortunately,
none of Seagate’s marketing literature mentions these changes or what their
purposes might be.

Notable changes include a redesigned base and top-plate, a more sturdy back
connector, and new circuit topography for the control board. The control board
has also been flipped so that most of the electronics (controller chip, RAM,
etc.) are sandwiched against base of the drive instead of exposed to the air.
It’s likely that the redesigned base is at least partly responsible for the
sizable decrease in the claimed noise level.


The 7200.11 — New and improved?

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340AS
(from Seagate’s product
overview
)
FEATURE & BRIEFCOMMENT
Up to 1 TB of storage
capacity (also 500 GB and 750 GB)
The industry’s high water
mark for a year now, though Seagate was late to the game.
Industry’s most reliable
hard drive with proven second-generation Seagate perpendicular magnetic
recording (PMR) technology
Measuring reliability is
far to difficult to find data to corroborate this. PMR is not intrinsically
more reliable than older technologies.
Leverages best combination
of technology (areal density, PMR) and proven components for volume
shipping
Kudos to anyone who can figure
out what this actually means. Oh — and areal density is a measurement,
not a technology.
Industry-leading acoustics
and power
consumption levels
Industry-leading? We’ll see
about that — especially acoustics.
5-year limited warrantyThe best in the business.
105-MB/s sustained data
rate
Impressive … but misleading
— a nice number, but not necessarily a good indicator of real-world
performance.
32-MB cacheAnother industry high water
mark — but, again, Seagate was not the first.

Despite debuting with the largest cache yet seen on a desktop drive, the initial
round of benchmarks for the 1 TB 7200.11 were somewhat disappointing. On paper
and in synthetic benchmarks, the drive looks excellent, but most reputable sources
using real-world benchmarks (i.e. testing actual applications rather than drive
specifications) put it in the middle of the pack. Its high point is its sustained
transfer rate, which helps when copying large, unfragmented files from one place
to another, but few other usage patterns stood out.

However, some early revisions of the drive shipped with faulty firmware that
only allowed 16 MB of the 32 MB cache to be used, casting in doubt many of the
initial benchmarks seen on the web. The problem has been fixed in a recent revision
(early adopters may need to download
a firmware update
), but it’s difficult to gauge exactly where the drive
stands in the performance race. As always, we recommend Storage
Review
as a reliable source for drive reviews; but, at the time of writing,
no review for the 7200.11 had been published.

The large cache size is also subject to one other technical glitch: Most utilities
report the cache size as 0 MB. The
word from Seagate
is that the full 32 MB cache is being used regardless
of what is being reported, but it would appear that there are some configurations
(or, perhaps, just specific drive controllers) that
do not properly utilize the cache
. Seagate’s explanation is that a 32MB
cache cannot be properly reported through the (admittedly aged) ATA interface
— but it seems strange that Hitachi’s
7K1000
has no problem reporting the correct 32 MB cache size. It’s not clear
whether or not this issue Seagate’s fault, but given Seagate’s record in dealing
with the first cache issue, it seems likely that this problem will eventually
be fixed if it is indeed a Seagate issue.


No legacy power connector here…

SPECIFICATIONS

The specifications below are specific to model that we examined. Capacity,
cache size, platter number, interface, and even performance vary from model
to model even within a single product line. Acoustics and power dissipation
also vary depending on the number of platters in the drive; smaller capacity
drives tend to have fewer platters, and tend to produce less noise and use less
power.


Specifications: Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340AS
(from Seagate’s data
sheet
)
Capacity
1 TB (1,000.2 GB)
Cache
32 MB
Disks / Heads
4 / 8
InterfaceSATA 3Gb/s
Spindle Rotation Speed
7,200 RPM
Sustained Data Rate OD105 MB/s
Average Latency
4.16 ms
Weight
0.64 kg
Power Requirements: Idle / Seek
(avg.)
8.0 / 11.6 W
Acoustics: Idle / Seek
2.7 / 2.9 bels

Seagate achieves its 1 TB capacity using four 250 GB disks. Unusually, no seek
times are listed in the performance specifications. Instead, something called
"Sustained Data Rate OD" is listed — at a whopping 105 MB/s.
Exactly what this number represents is difficult to say given how much transfer
rate can vary depending on where the data is located within the drive.

TEST RESULTS

Our sample was tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology
. Our methodology focuses specifically on
HDD noise, and great effort is taken to ensure it is comprehensively measured
and described. Performance is not tested, for reasons discussed in detail in
the methodology article. For comprehensive HDD performance testing results,
we recommend Storage
Review
, who have established a long reputation as the specialist in
this field. At the time of writing, they had not yet reviewed the 7200.11, but
a review of the
drive’s enterprise version, the Barracuda ES.2
, was published in October
2007.

Our test drive was compared against our reference drives, the Seagate Barracuda
IV and Samsung Spinpoint P80, which are profiled in our methodology article.
To get a good idea of where the drives in this review stand, it is important
to read the methodology article thoroughly. It was also compared against a previous
incarnation, the 7200.10,
as well as two other large drives we’ve seen: The
Hitachi 7K1000
and the Western
Digital Caviar GP
.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These two types of noise impact the subjective
perception of hard drive noise differently depending on how and where the drive
is mounted.

Both forms of noise are evaluated objectively and
subjectively. Both the subjective and objective analyses are essential to understanding
the acoustics of the drives. Airborne acoustics are measured using a professional
caliber SLM. Measurements are taken at a distance of one meter above the top
of the drive using an A-weighted filter. Vibration noise is rated on a scale
of 1-10 by comparing against our standard reference drives.

Unfortunately, AAM (Automatic Acoustic Management) is not supported
as a user-configurable option on the Seagate, which means that our standard
means of generating seek noise via the AAM test function in Hitachi’s
HDD Feature Tool
could not be used. Instead, seek noise was generated
using the seek test of HDTach
3.0.4.0
.

A final caveat: As with most reviews, our comments
are relevant to the sample we tested. Your sample may not be identical. There
are always some sample variances, and manufacturers also make changes without
telling everyone.

Ambient conditions at the time of testing were 18 dBA and 20°C.

DRIVE NOISE EVALUATION
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics

Measured Power
Seagate Barracuda
7200.11 ST31000340AS
December 2007
firmware SD15
3
Idle

23~24 dBA@1m

7.8 W
Seek (Normal)

24~25 dBA@1m

11.6 W
REFERENCE DRIVES
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3750640AS
April 2006
firmware 3.AAC
4
Idle

24 dBA@1m

9.2 W
Seek (Normal)

28-34 dBA@1m

11.7 W
Western Digital Caviar Green Power WD7500AACS
October 2007
firmware 01.01B01
7
Idle

19~20 dBA@1m

3.3~5.9 W
Seek (AAM)
19~20 dBA@1m
5.4 W
Seek (Normal)

21 dBA@1m

6.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 HDS721010KLA330
June 2007
firmware GKAOA70M
5
Low RPM Idle
20-21 dBA@1m
3.6 W
Idle

24 dBA@1m

8.5 W
6.2 W (unloaded)
Seek (AAM)
24 dBA@1m
11.7 W
Seek (Normal)

26-27 dBA@1m

15.4 W
Seagate Barracuda IV
ST340016A – firmware 3.10
6
Idle

20 dBA@1m

6.7 W
Seek (AAM)

23 dBA@1m



11.3 W
Seek (Normal)

25-26 dBA@1m



11.6 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (Nidec motor)
June 04 – firmware TK100-24
4
Idle

21 dBA@1m

6.3 W
Seek (AAM)

23-24 dBA@1m

8.3 W
Seek (Normal)

25-26 dBA@1m

9.1 W
Samsung Spinpoint P80 (JVC motor)
Feb 05 – firmware TK200-04
6
Idle

21 dBA@1m

6.2 W
Seek (AAM)

25 dBA@1m

n / a
Seek (Normal)

27 dBA@1m

9.3 W

After years of drifting away from the high standard set by the Barracuda IV,
the 7200.11 represents a turn in the right direction. The changes to the structure
of the drive appear to have helped mute both idle and seek noise, and while
it still has nothing on our old favorite, it’s an improvement on almost every
Seagate drive we’ve seen since then, the
single-platter 160 GB Barracuda 7200.9
being the only possible exception.

At idle, the improvement was barely perceptible. Like most large, multi-platter
drives, the 7200.11 produced a significant amount of turbulence noise in idle.
At 23~24 dBA@1m, it measured just slightly lower than its predecessors, but
still well above the 20~21 dBA@1m level that the best 7,200 RPM drives are capable
of. In addition, the noise has acquired a slightly metallic sound that is a
bit more tonal than previous Seagates. These are fine differences though; chances
are the audible difference is nil in most real-life systems.

The seek noise, however, was a different story, dropping from a high of 34
dBA@1m (!) for the previous Barracuda generation to a level that only just nudged
above idle. Subjectively, the seeks still sounded sharp and sudden, but the
total noise level was acceptably quiet. As can be gathered by looking at the
comparison drives, the maximum seek noise of 25 dBA@1m is not bad overall, though
it’s not quite on par with the current best-of-the-crop, represented by
the Western Digital Caviar GP
. Unfortunately, AAM is not implemented in
the 7200.11 (or any current Seagate drive), so there is no chance of reducing
the seek noise further.

All the noise measurements were taken with the drive resting on a piece of
thick, soft foam. The results may well have been higher had the drive not been
resting on a surface designed to prevent vibration noise. The 7200.11 vibrated.
A lot. So much, in fact, that a 120 Hz hum could be heard clearly anywhere in
the lab whenever the drive was not nestled on its bed of foam. It’s not the
worst drive we’ve seen for vibration — but second worst isn’t something
Seagate should be proud of.

To end this summary on some good news: Seagate has been good to their word
and dropped power consumption noticeably compared to previous models. This was
true under both idle and seek conditions, putting the 7200.11 back in the middle
of the pack rather than at the bottom.

(A side note: The difference in seek power consumption is actually much
larger than it appears due to differences in how the seek condition was achieved.
Previous Seagate tests used disk defragmentation rather than HDTach’s random
seek test to generate seek noise — a less stressful, and therefore less
power-hungry, mode of seeking.)

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here
in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 5 seconds of ambient noise, and
10 seconds of idle noise followed by 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled
and 10 seconds without.

Keep in mind that the recordings paint only part of the acoustic
picture; vibration noise is not recorded, and drives often sound different depending
on the angle from which they are heard.

  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000340ASIdle: 23~24 / Seek:
    24~25 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter

Reference Comparatives:

  • Western Digital Caviar Green Power WD7500AACSIdle: 19~20 /
    AAM: 19~20 / Seek: 21 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
  • Hitachi Global Storage Deskstar 7K1000 HDS721010KLA330Idle:
    24 / AAM: 24 / Seek: 26~27 dBA@1m —
    One
    Meter
  • Hitachi Global Storage Deskstar 7K1000 HDS721010KLA330Low
    RPM Mode: 20~21 dBA@1m —
    One
    Meter
  • Samsung T Series HD400LJIdle: 20 / AAM: 21 Seek: 22-23 dBA@1m
    One Meter
  • Samsung P80 SP0802N (Nidec)Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 Seek:
    25-26 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
  • Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A Idle: 20 / AAM: 23 Seek:
    25-26 dBA@1m
    One
    Meter
HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made
with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then
converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard
to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files
to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during
the review.

Most recordings are made
from a distance of one meter. The recording is intended to give you
an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one
meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer
component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject.
For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise
is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be
audible — if we couldn’t hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn’t
record it either!

Occasionally, we may include
an extra recording from a distance of one foot. This recording is designed
to bring out the fine details of the noise — typically when the
source is so quiet that it is very close to ambient when heard from
one meter. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed,
it does not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best
to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter
recording.

More details about how
we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio
Recording Methods Revised
.

CONCLUSIONS

Although the 7200.11 represents a step forward for Seagate’s acoustics
(the first in a while), it’s still not quite good enough to compete with the
quietest drives. A year or two ago, the single decibel difference between idle
and seek noise might have been noteworthy, as would the 25 dBA@1m maximum noise
measurement. However, times have changed, drives have gotten quieter, and Seagate
still finds itself trying to recapture the acoustic goodness of the Barracuda
IV.

There are other points of concern as well: The high vibration,
the questions about the cache implementation, and the corresponding questions
about performance. Unfortunately for Seagate, the 7200.11’s closest acoustic
competitor, Hitachi’s 7K1000, features a
very quiet low RPM mode that mitigates its otherwise noisy character. The 7200.11
would do well to imitate this feature.

Perhaps I am too negative. When it comes down to the line, the
Barracuda 7200.11 isn’t really a noisy drive. It is perfectly possible to build
a quiet system using it, and our lack of praise for it is more a testament to
how far drive acoustics have come than any specific complaint about the drive
itself. It’s just … while it’s possible to build a quiet system with
a 7200.11, other recent drives make it possible to build a silent system.
Our standards march ever upwards.

Many thanks to Seagate
for the Barracuda 7200.11 sample.

*

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR’s Hard Drive Testing Methodology
SPCR’s Recommended Hard Drives
WD Green Power: A New Benchmark in HDD Acoustics
& Power

The Terabyte Landmark: Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10: Desktop Drives
go Perpendicular

Seagate 7200.9 Single-Platter 160 GB Hard
Drive

* * *

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